Random Samples

Science  02 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5974, pp. 21

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  1. Russian Launches Baikal Petition

      A Russian scientist at Iowa State University has started a petition to save Siberia's Lake Baikal. Evolutionary biologist Dennis Lavrov says he felt “an obligation to speak about it,” after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in January overturned a 2001 ban on disposing of toxic waste in the lake Russia calls the “Sacred Sea.”

      The change allows the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill, which closed in 2008 after 42 years when it couldn't comply with the ban, once more to dump its waste, including cancer-causing dioxins, into the largest, deepest, and oldest freshwater lake in the world.

      The online petition to President Dmitry Medvedev is intended “to show that international scientists recognize the danger of the mill … [and] emphasize the importance of Lake Baikal to the whole world rather than just to Russia,” says Lavrov. The lake is “truly a globally unique resource,” says Steve Kallick, project director of the Pew Environment Group's International Boreal Conservation Campaign in Seattle, Washington, because of its relative isolation, diverse ecosystem, and well-studied fossil record.

      Lavrov says for scientists in his homeland, “being in Russia limits their ability to speak openly about the issue.” An environmental group that has campaigned to keep waste out of Lake Baikal reported that it was raided in February by Russian police. As of last week, the petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/baikal/) had 476 signatures from scientists and graduate students, including about 20 (some of them “anonymous”) from individuals in Russia.

    1. Toning Down the Warming Alarm


        The ripple effect of “Climategate” has caught up with London's Science Museum, which is planning a neutral tone for its £4 million climate exhibit to open in November.

        Last year, in the run-up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit, the museum had an exhibit called “Prove It! All the evidence you need to believe in climate change.”

        Now, the museum is soft-pedaling the “change” part. “The focus has shifted to climate science as public trust in science has declined,” says museum spokesperson Kerry Law, who acknowledges that the “Prove It!” exhibit “did provoke a strong reaction from climate change deniers.”

        So the museum will present just climate facts in its new climate science gallery and not jump to any alarming conclusions. “It's our job to supply an enjoyable, informative experience,” says museum Director Chris Rapley, a climate scientist who has spoken on the potential dangers of global warming. “We're a museum for everybody; … people don't like being told what to think.”

      1. Men for Mars

          Relaxation in isolation.


          If six men are crammed into a space capsule for 520 days, will they go crazy? Candidates are now competing to help answer that question.

          There's no crewed voyage to Mars in the offing, but the joint Russian-European Mars500 project is on track for a simulated year-and-a-half roundtrip to, and a 3-week field trip on, the Red Planet. Six men will enter a capsule this summer at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow. Nine candidates are currently training in Russia. The final crew, to be announced in May, will comprise three Russians, two Europeans, and either a Chinese or another Russian.

          Astronauts who venture beyond the protection of Earth's magnetic field must dive behind protective shields periodically to avoid deadly blasts of radiation from solar flares. Otherwise, the daily routine is similar to life aboard a ship: 8 hours each of work, recreation, and sleep. Work includes medical tests, growing vegetables in the greenhouse, and mandatory exercise. Recreation includes the use of an onboard sauna. Unlike Russian cosmonauts, the crew won't be allowed cocktails.

          Six men have already successfully endured a 105-day version of the experiment last year. There was only one problem: European-style freeze-dried fare “did not match the Russian taste for food, which at the end led to some weight loss in some of the Russian crew members,” says project manager Jennifer Ngo-Anh.

        1. Yamanaka Honored Once Again


            Last year, it was the Lasker Award. This year, Shinya Yamanaka has collared the $250,000 March of Dimes Prize for his development of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Yamanaka, 47, currently divides his time between Kyoto University in Japan and the J. David Gladstone Institutes at the University of California, San Francisco. Rapidly evolving iPS cell technology not only potentially eliminates the need to destroy human embryos for stem cells; it also has, in effect, democratized the field by making it possible for any cell biologist to work with pluripotent human stem cells. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony in Vancouver, Canada, on 3 May.